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Is Netanyahu’s hard line from the heart or is it political?

The Israeli prime minister could surprise us. That thought and seven others following the Israeli election.

Likud party supporters listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering his victory speech on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Eight thoughts (with links) after the Israeli election:

1. Read Mark Porubcansky’s overview, for MinnPost, of the election result. The nut graph:

“Rather than signifying the ‘great victory’ [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] declared via Twitter after the polls closed Tuesday, however, the election is unlikely to make Israel any easier to govern. If anything, the tenor of his campaign will make differences with the Obama administration over Iran’s nuclear program and Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians even worse. Relations with Israel’s sizable Arab minority will be both trickier and more significant.”

2. Tom Friedman’s take, (from his column in this morning New York Times):

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“It is hard to know what is more depressing: that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign — renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out and vote because, he said, too many Israeli Arabs were going to the polls —  or the fact that this seemed to work.

“To be sure, Netanyahu could reverse himself tomorrow. As the Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote: Netanyahu’s promises are like something ‘written on ice on a very hot day.’ But the fact is a good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious-nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.”

3. Turnout of eligible Israeli voters in yesterday’s election: 71.8 percent.

Turnout of U.S. voters in 2014 election: 36.3 percent.

I know. You’re saying that 2014 was only a midterm election, an argument I hate because the entire U.S. House is on the ballot in midterms plus one-third of the U.S. Senate, but OK, let’s go to the last presidential election year.

U.S. turnout in 2012: 54.0 percent.

4. The tight and bipartisan U.S.-Israeli friendship doesn’t go back as far a lot of us think when we reflexively cite Harry Truman’s quick recognition of Israel’s independence in 1948. The modern alliance and the big annual aid packages really date from the 1967 war. But it grew more and more solid and meaningful for decades. Now it is more partisan and more frail than usual. President Obama and Netanyahu neither like nor trust each other and Netanyahu’s recent visit to speak to Congress was a new irritant. There is some possibility from here that the alliance will recede further or become more and a more divided along party lines within the United States.

5. Most American Jews are Democrats and it appears that younger American Jews are more willing than their parents to be critical of Israel, especially when it is under right-wing leadership and if the leadership is stonewalling the so-called “peace process.” J Street, an organization dominated by young American Jews which calls itself “pro-Israel and pro-peace,” put out a statement (by J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami) that began:

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory is a deep disappointment to all who hoped that Israel might choose a new direction for the country in yesterday’s election.

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“The Prime Minister’s renunciation of the two-state solution and resort to a campaign grounded in fear and tinged with racism successfully moved 150,000 votes from other right-wing parties into the Likud column in the campaign’s final days. But we fear that the cost to Israel in the long-run will be steep in terms of support here in the United States and internationally.”

The full J Street statement is here.

6. Israel has a vibrant free press, which stands out in the generally undemocratic and authoritarian region in which it is situated. Here are the headlines with links to the lineup of op-ed pieces in today’s edition of the left-Labor-leaning newspaper Ha’aretz:

Netanyahu won, but Israel was brought to its knees (by Ari Shavit).

Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him (by Gideon Levy).  

As an Israeli, I am ashamed that my prime minister is a racist (by Bradley Burston).  

Netanyahu won, but he lost his image as national leader (by Uri Misgav).  

7. Does Netanyahu’s hard line on the issue of a two-state solution come from the heart or is it political? Personally, I was more convinced that Netanyahu was faking about wanting to reach a two-state deal. I can’t read his heart but you might note that Netanyahu’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, to whom the son was devoted, was a substantial figure in the hard-line right “revisionist” movement within Zionism. The revisionists believed in a “greater Israel,” basically including all of the territory now comprising Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and, in various times and cases, Jordan as well. Benzion Netanyahu opposed the 1948 United Nations actions that created the modern state of Israel, basically because it didn’t give Israel enough territory. It is, of course, unfair to assign the father’s politics to the son. There have always been those who speculated that Benjamin could never trade land for peace with the Arabs as long as his father was alive. Benzion died in 2012 at age 102.

8. Of course, it was Menachem Begin, the leader of the revisionist Zionists and man implicated in acts of terror against Arabs, who signed the Camp David peace accord ending the permanent state of war between Egypt and Israel. It was Ariel Sharon, the patron of the movement to build settlements in the occupied territories, who as prime minister pulled all the settlements out of Gaza. Netanyahu is a mere 65 and looks to be fit for a while yet. He could surprise us.